Researcher creates paths to holistic wellness through inspired and empowered youth

The Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation selects Kate Storey for innovative child-health research program.

Nisa Drozdowski - 10 September 2018

Childhood is a critical stage of life to establish healthy habits. For this reason, Assistant Professor Kate Storey is passionate about creating environments that inspire and empower youth, so kids can learn, grow and thrive.

An expert in her field, Storey was selected to be a Distinguished Researcher in the Stollery Science Lab. The new program was developed with a $5 million donation from the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation, in partnership with the Women and Children's Health Research Institute, the University of Alberta and the Stollery Children's Hospital. Storey and six other researchers have received funding to boost their current research.

Storey's research program, SIRCLE (Settings-based Intervention through Changes in Lifestyles and Environments), focuses on community- and school-based strategies that prevent chronic diseases and reduce health inequities. Her program aims to improve the overall health and well-being of kids, their families and their communities.

"This funding will elevate my research to the next level," explained Storey. "Being a Distinguished Researcher is an exciting opportunity to be an ambassador and have a broader platform to advocate for children's health-something I'm passionate about personally and professionally."

One of SIRCLE's current projects is supporting kids and communities in fostering mino-bimaadiziwin/miyo-pimâtisiwin-or "living in a good way."

Mino-Bimaadiziwin/miyo-pimâtisiwin is an Anishinaabe/Nēhiyaw philosophy of living well, and is the concept prioritized in her work. Storey explains that living in a good way is key to the Indigenous Youth Mentorship Program (IYMP) embraced by two Alberta communities she is working with, where high school youth mentor younger elementary-aged students.

"Research shows that unhealthy eating, physical inactivity and obesity are on the rise and are unacceptably high in Canadian children," explained Storey. "While IYMP is meant to promote wellness and prevent type 2 diabetes among Indigenous youth, rather than focus on only the physical aspects of good health, the program creates a path to holistic wellness through inspired and empowered youth."

IYMP is a peer-led after-school healthy living program that embraces living in a good way with physical activities and games, a healthy snack and a relationship-building component, led by high school mentors. The program is grounded in resilience-based Indigenous theory and the teachings are guided by Martin Brokenleg's Circle of Courage, a model that addresses four universal growth needs of all children: belonging, mastery, independence and generosity.

Mentors work with a young adult health leader in the community to plan weekly sessions. With the support of community members, high school mentors tailor activities to meet the needs of their community while still embodying the core components of IYMP.

"These mentorship programs are based on, and celebrate, the strengths of the community-knowledge, skills and relationships," said Storey. "These go hand-in-hand with physical health to live a good life."

Thirteen Indigenous communities across Canada have embraced IYMP, including two in Alberta. Storey says her SIRCLE team is investigating how to best support new communities who may wish to establish their own program. "This is not meant to be a 'binder program'-one that provides a package of prescribed lesson plans and checklists."

Storey says the objective is to ensure IYMP can continue to be delivered by the community, for the community."The questions we have are-how can we make this sustainable? What tools can we offer other communities who want to establish a similar program, to build on their own strengths to achieve the goals they have for their own youth?"

When Storey says being a Distinguished Researcher will elevate her research, she means it will help her answer these types of questions. "Ultimately, this support will give my research a broader reach in improving the health and well-being of kids and creating environments where all children have equal opportunities to grow and thrive."